Fay Wray


      B I O G .


      Date of birth:

        15 September 1907
        Cardston, Alberta, Canada

      Birth name:

        Vina Fay Wray


        5' 3"


        Dr Sanford (Sandy) Rothenberg (1970 - 1991) (his death)
        Robert Riskin (23 August 1942 - 20 September 1955) (his death) 2 children
        John Monk Saunders (15 June 1928 - 1939) (divorced) 1 child

      Date of death:

        8 August 2004
        New York, New York, USA. (natural causes)



      Fay Wray will always be remembered as the shrieking, blond Beauty who "killed" the Beast in King Kong (1933), which is a mixed blessing. Without the classic monster movie, Wray's career might be forgotten today. On the other hand (a phrase she used as the title of her 1989 autobiography), her Kong notoriety overshadows her fine work in Erich von Stroheim's The Wedding March.

      She was born in Alberta, Canada, on September 15, 1907. Her mother, Vina Jones, eloped with lover Joseph Wray. But eventually he abandoned them and Fay was sent to live with a friend of the family in Los Angeles at the age of 14, studying at Hollywood High School, because the Californian sea and sun were thought to be good for her frail health.

      Her pretty blonde looks soon got her noticed by filmmakers and by age 16 Wray was working in low-budget movies. She appeared in Hal Roach comedy shorts and was leading lady to Western stars Hoot Gibson (in 1923's The Man in the Saddle and Art Acord (in 1926's Lazy Lightning but was largely dissatisfied with her screen work until she was signed by producer Pat Powers for The Wedding March in 1926, during which she had to fend off the sexual advances of director Erich von Strohelm.

      Von Stroheim's production went over schedule and over budget, and Powers sold the picture-and Wray's contract-to Paramount. Even in its truncated form, The Wedding March (finally released in 1928) was a masterful film that showcased Wray's virginal beauty. Paramount's The Street of Sin (1927) offered Wray an opportunity to work with German star Emil Jannings and Swedish director Mauritz Stiller. She appeared in The Legion of the Condemned (1927) with Gary Cooper for director William Wellman, and also co-starred in Josef von Sternberg's first talkie, Thunderbolt (1929).

      The Four Feathers (1929) was an odd hybrid production that combined semi-documentary footage directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack with studio footage helmed by German émigré Lothar Mendes, but it gave Wray her first opportunity to work with the team that would create King Kong When she joined the cast of Kong the protracted schedule allowed her to work on several other movies concurrently, especially thrillers and horror films, including a pair of Technicolor thrillers, Doctor X (1932) and The Mystery of the Wax Museum plus The Vampire Bat (both 1933), and particularly The Most Dangerous Game (1932), which was directed by Schoedsack (with actor Irving Pichel) and shot on the Kong jungle sets at night. Other films from this period include Dirigible, The Unholy Garden (both 1930), One Sunday Afternoon and The Bowery (both 1933).

      It was the roles in the above mentioned horror films Doctor X and The Vampire Bat that revealed that Wray had a fine pair of lungs and she became known as the Queen of Scream. This suited her perfectly for King Kong in which, she was told, she would be cast opposite a tall, dark leading man. 'king Kong director Merain C. Cooper called me into his office and showed me sketches of jungle scenes and said: "You're going to have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood," she recalled.

      'Naturally, I thought of Clark Cable. But then he showed me a sketch of a giant ape on the Empire State Building. He said: "There's your leading man."'

      King Kong finally reached the screen in 1933. Thereafter, she acted in prestige pictures such as Affairs of Cellini, Viva Villa!, The Richest Girl in the World and The Captain Hates the Sea (all 1934), but those films, as well as later programmers in which she toiled, did very little for her career.

      Divorced from screenwriter John Monk Saunders in 1939, Wray married screenwriter Robert Riskin in 1942 and retired from the screen. In the 1950s she returned to character parts in The Cobweb, Queen Bee (both 1955), Rock, Pretty Baby (1956), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), and her last feature, Dragstrip Riot (1958).

      Her autobiography, On the Other Hand (1989) reveals that Wray had a life much more interesting than the characters she played.

      When she died in August 2004, aged 96, the lights of the Empire State Building, the skyscraper she helped immortalise, were dimmed for 15 minutes.

      The director Peter Jackson was particularly saddened by Fay Wray's passing. He had hoped to include her in his King Kong Fay would speak the final line: 'It was beauty that killed the beast.'

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